100 Greatest Albums of the 90’s: #26

Nirvana – Unplugged In New York

When you listen to ‘Unplugged In New York’, you’re listening to a man officiating at his own funeral. The way Kurt Cobain says “Good evening” at the start is a whisker away from “Dearly beloved…”. He designed the stage set: it’s covered in flowers and black candles. The “Unplugged” series for MTV largely featured various members of the musical it-crowd performing their most well known songs with acoustic guitars rather than electric ones. Nirvana only plays one bona fide “hit” in this entire set (the shimmering ‘Come As You Are’) devoting nearly half the songs to covers from his influences. These covers are often easy highlights like the earthy glow of the three Meat Puppets numbers or the moody fantasies of Bowie’s ‘The Man Who Sold The World’. The Nirvana originals are brilliant as ever, but their former firepower is replaced with an emotional intensity rivalled by very few. When Cobain sings “I’m so tired I can’t sleep” he couldn’t be more convincing if he showed you a retina scan. The only downside to this live format is the audience; there should be no applause after a performance as stirring as ‘Something In The Way’, just deathly silence for a minimum of ten minutes. It’s amazing how well these grunge songs translate to the acoustic format; it’s the sheer strength of songwriting and the versatility of the person writing them. Though this is clearly Cobain’s record more than anyone else’s, Dave Ghrol’s shuffling drums and Krist Novoselic’s smart backing should be given more credit. The obvious show-stealer is the closing cover of Leadbelly’s ‘Where Did You Sleep Last Night?’ which grows from weary mumbles to a jaw-dropping agonised howl that sounds like a man clenching his fist and taking his last breath before letting everything go; if you listen carefully you can hear the earth stop spinning and do a double-take. This is easily Nirvana’s finest hour; the moment where they transcended the grunge genre and became a raw emotional powerhouse from start to finish.

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